• algal–bacterial interactions;
  • Aureococcus anophagefferens;
  • intron;
  • Nannochloropsis gaditana;
  • Phaeodactylum tricornutum;
  • Pseudoisochrysis paradoxa;
  • Thalassiosira oceanica;
  • Thalassiosira pseudonana;
  • urea;
  • urease

While urea has long been recognized as an important form of nitrogen in planktonic ecosystems, very little is known about how many or which phytoplankton and bacteria can use urea as a nitrogen source. We developed a method, targeting the gene encoding urease, for the direct detection and identification of ureolytic organisms and tested it on seven axenic phytoplankton cultures (three diatoms, two prymnesiophytes, a eustigmatophyte, and a pelagophyte) and on three nonaxenic Aureococcus anophagefferens Hargraves et Sieburth cultures (CCMP1784 and two CCMP1708 cultures from different laboratories). The urease amplicon sequences from axenic phytoplankton cultures were consistent with genomic data in the three species for which both were available. Seven of 12 phytoplankton species have one or more introns in the amplified region of their urease gene(s). The 63 urease amplicons that were cloned and sequenced from nonaxenic A. anophagefferens cultures grouped into 17 distinct sequence types. Eleven types were related to α-Proteobacteria, including three types likely belonging to the genus Roseovarius. Four types were related to γ-Proteobacteria, including two likely belonging to the genus Marinobacter, and two types were related to β-Proteobacteria. Terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (TRFLP) analyses suggested that the sequenced amplicons represented approximately half of the diversity of bacterial urease genes present in the nonaxenic cultures. While many of the bacterial urease sequence types were apparently lab- or culture-specific, others were found in all three nonaxenic cultures, suggesting the possibility of specific relationships between these bacteria and A. anophagefferens.